Jasper blinked the sleep out of his eyes as he wearily turned onto his side to silence the shrill ringing of his alarm clock. This was the start of another school day, just like any other; just as angst-ridden, just as fearful, just as monotonous, just as filled with self doubt – nothing different. Nothing ever changed.
Impatiently brushing a strand of his hair from his face he sat up and pulled back the duvet. It was no use arguing with his mother about going to that dreadful place. He’d have to go and face them eventually.
Slowly he walked to the cracked mirror at the end of his bedroom and stared hopelessly at his tired reflection. His skin was grey from insomnia, and the telltale lines, already at the side of his mouth, worsened by every drag of his cigarette, showed more than ever.
His long dark hair came to just below the collar of his mismatched pyjamas, covering the long purple scar on his pale chest, a token of his peers. He hastily dressed himself in his school uniform, his blazer now pilled with wear, his trousers coming to just below his ankles. These items of clothing had one been his brother’s; he had tried to persuade his mother to buy him a new set, but she had told him to make do with what was there already. Did he think they were made of money?
He proceeded to hide himself beneath a thick layer white face powder and using his kohl pencil to its full potential. His strongly outlined eyes stared back at him through the reflective glass. He had felt that taking refuge by covering his face and body lessened his exposure to the world, and made him feel safer somehow. When he had made his emotions less noticeable he could stay behind this mask for the rest of the day.
Jasper had tried to fit in with the others at his school before, but it had only made things worse, so he had decided not to try any more. He had always known that he was different; not just in the way he dressed, or his tastes: He was separated from most sixteen year olds in his town in a much deeper sense, something dark and mysterious, that he didn’t even quite know himself.
All his life, he had never felt one with the group. Perhaps he was destined to be an outsider.
Glancing around the room, his nervous gaze rested upon a piece of jagged glass that had flown from the mirror when his father had taken his fist to it three months before.
Holding it between thumb and forefinger, he rolled up his sleeve and slowly drove the sharp blade-like edge into the skin of his wrist. His eyes focussed with concentration as he watched the crimson liquid leak out, running down his arm and onto the floor, camouflaging with the red carpet. Pain seared through his nerves, but the agony in his mind seemed to decrease, even if it was only temporarily. A tiny measure of frustration and anger seemed to leave him with each drop of blood that fell. Soon the blade of glass would leave its mark, adding to the collection of criss-crossing white lines already etched there.
“Hurry up, Jasper, you’ll be late! came the impatient call from downstairs.
“Coming, Mam” came his atonal reply. Swinging his patched grey satchel over his shoulder, he descended the short flight of stairs and left the house, closing the front door softly behind him.
He walked straight ahead up the street, neatly avoiding the stray chip packets and beer cans, still un-cleared from last Friday night.
After a few minutes he crossed the road and entered the park through its large, black metal gates. Each giant tree stood still and silent, as if it were still sleeping at this early time in the morning, Jasper carried on through the children’s play area where he held so many memories; He had spent countless happy hours with his brother Matt, dizzying each other on the round-about and soaring into the air on the swings. They were brave adventurers in the jungle of the climbing frame and fearless speed-racers on springing motorbikes; tight ropewalkers on the stepping-stones and circus acrobats on the monkey bars. They transformed the small red wooden boat into a great ship, in which they travelled together to distant shores, seeking lost treasure. The rubber tyre that lay on the ground was their very own dinghy, in which they could escape from enemy attackers. These enemies were all around, you were never quite sure whom to trust, but if they stuck together they could brave anything. They were safe.
Awakening from his array of memory, he noticed one swing was hanging loosely off a single chain, its rusty links groaning as it swung back and forth. He looked over to the climbing frame. It stood vacantly, its paint scraped off from rust, its bars bent at odd angles. The motorbikes had toppled onto the grimy earth, their springs standing uselessly. The wooden boat lay capsized, with crude words scribbled over its body in black permanent marker. Discarded needles were scattered haphazardly on the dry earth near the bushes and broken glass littered the sandpit. Things must have changed, Jasper thought. This town must have become rougher since he was younger. But then again, perhaps it had never been quite so idyllic after all; he only saw these things now through the eyes of experience.